Ann Bianco Alexander, a Baltimore actress whose successful struggle to overcome lymphoma nearly a decade ago allowed her to return to the stage, died of pneumonia Monday at University of Maryland Medical Center. She was 47 and lived in Ellicott City.
She was born Ann Marie Bianco in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville. Her interest in singing and performing began in her childhood when she and her siblings put on backyard shows and used a tape recorder to script imaginary radio shows.
By the age of 12, she was taking voice lessons, and during her high school years, she regularly appeared in drama club productions at Woodlawn High School. After graduating in 1975, she enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1979.
During the next 25 years, she appeared in musical productions at Dundalk Community Theatre, Fells Point Corner Theater, Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre, Toby's Dinner Theater, Bolton Hill Dinner Theater and Limestone Dinner Theater.
Favorite roles included Eva Peron in Evita, the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Lady Thiang in the King and I and Lizzie in 110 in the Shade.
As a soprano, she sang with Opus V, a Baltimore quintet that has performed jazz, doo-wop and rhythm and blues at area nightclubs and Meyerhoff Symphony Hall since 1986.
She was a founder in 1994 of Catonsville Theatre Company, where, in addition to appearing in shows, she designed costumes and organized programs. Also, for the past several years, she found time to appear in productions staged by the Golden Radio Buffs of Maryland.
Though she had been an office assistant at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Ellicott City for the past 12 years, the theater and singing defined her life.
"She made the decision not to turn professional because her family came first. And that was the only thing that stopped her," said Natalia C. Leimkuhler, a producer and actress with Catonsville Theatre Company. "The only thing she was more dedicated to than the theater was her family."
"She liked local theater because it was more personal and she got to know people. She enjoyed the friendly atmosphere," said her husband of 20 years, Bob Alexander, a retired Baltimore police officer.
Mrs. Alexander's world seemed to come to an end in 1997 after her lymphoma was diagnosed while she was expecting her first child.
"It was a large and very aggressive mass that affected her heart and lungs, and did not respond to chemotherapy," said Dr. Aaron P. Rapoport, a hematologist and bone marrow transplant physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
With a stem-cell transplant from a sister, Mrs. Alexander was able to regain her health.
"The stem-cell transplant was successful, and she never had a recurrence of lymphoma. After three or four months, there was no sign of lymphoma. It really was a miracle," Dr. Rapoport said.
"She was able to assume the role of mother after her daughter was born OK and resume her theater career. She was a profile in courage and a woman of valor, faith and optimism," Dr. Rapoport said.
Since 2000, Dr. Rapoport had had Mrs. Alexander speak to the medical students at the University of Maryland School of Medicine about her experiences as a stem-cell transplant survivor.
"Her death is a tough loss. It's one of the toughest," Dr. Rapoport said.
Mrs. Alexander's last production was Catonsville Theatre Company's The Roar of the Greasepaint -- The Smell of the Crowd, which opened last month. She had prepared the show's program.
Mrs. Alexander's willingness to do any job or step into a role at a moment's notice earned her the respect of her colleagues.
"She was no diva. She did whatever had to be done to get the show going. She was a person who was strong-willed, strong physically and full of energy," said Robin Lee, a founder of Catonsville Theatre Company and producer.
"She was our go-to girl who could do everything. She was so articulate and had a comfortable ease when on stage. She was quite a talent who certainly left her mark," said Gary M. Heil, a longtime friend and fellow actor for more than 30 years.
Mrs. Alexander was a communicant of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, U.S. 40 and St. Agnes Lane in Catonsville, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Alexander is survived by her 7-year-old daughter, Robbie Ann Alexander; her father, Emidio Bianco of Ellicott City; her mother, Mary Bianco of Catonsville; two brothers, Tom Bianco of Catonsville and Joe Bianco of West Friendship; and six sisters, Jayne Cohill of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Kathy Smith, Donna Imhoff, Patty Meehan, Franny Griffith and Peggy Bianco, all of Ellicott City.